July 27, 2009

Like Cute Widdle Puppies

It's summer orientation season! Next year's crop of eager young freshthings are pouring onto campus for four days of basic training.

I know this because the other class I'm taking this half of the summer is "History of the Italian Renaissance", which is somewhat mistitled in that it's really "Renaissance Italian Humanist Thinking". It could easily have been in the Classics department, except it's set a few hundred years late.

Anyway, today we were going over the status of women in the intellegencia of the time (hint: not good), and our very loud professor was reading aloud excepts of one of the letters in the class reading, in which a prominent (male) humanist compliments a young woman who has some learning herself. In this ecominum, which is typeset in less than a single page, the Italian guy manages to mention the young lady's virginal status six times. It went from funny to creepy in a real hurry.

It amused me to wonder what the kids in the next classroom over, getting their mandatory Sexual Harassment Is Bad Mkay training, thought while hearing our professor boom out "You have so mastered philosophy that you sharply defend and strongly attack set propositions, and you, a virgin, dare to compete with men!" and "May I be allowed, O virgin, to contemplate your chaste face, that I may marvel at your appearance, learning, and carriage!"

Of course, the recipient of the letter (Cassandra Fedele) outlived the sender (Angelo Poliziano) by many decades, in that she managed to not get murdered. By poison. Also confusing the issue is the likelihood that Poliziano was gay, making the creepy-stalkerish style of the letter even more peciliar.

Later in the class, we discussed a dialog on who was more at fault, Adam or Eve. Yeah, really. At this point I suspect the neighboring kids thought it was a theology class. ("What about free will?" "But what about temptation?" "Is a person responsible for his own actions?" "Is a person responsible for encouraging others to do evil?")

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Visualizing Lots of Money

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July 22, 2009


I'm taking my first grad-level class this semester. It's "HIS 545 - Britain 1642 - 1815", a seminar with five students. Three are secondary school teachers working on getting their Master's during the summer, one is a grad student, and then there's myself, who gained approval to take it for undergraduate credit.

The most interesting thing is the change of emphasis. To summarize the professor's explanation, "Undergraduates study history. Graduates study historiography." It is taken for granted that you can read some primary or secondary sources on any period and figure out some approximation of what happened; what we're looking at for this class is how that understood approximation has changed over time.

I come at it from a background with more math and science than most history majors. I have come to believe that history is a model, in the way that scientists use the word. It is necessary to construct a model because there is too much to learn directly- even the history of, say, myself, would take someone else my full lifetime to learn; one has to leave out almost everything, and keep only juicy bits to construct a narrative explaining what happened at some past time and place.

The models used change, and that is the process of historiography. For instance, before the 1980s, few bothered to look at the influence of women on the American Revolution. Before the 1940s, few bothered to look at the influence of the urban poor on that same series of events. Now, the trend is to consider that there weren't 13 British colonies in the Americas, there were more than 30. Why did the rest of them stay loyal? It's not like the people living on Bermuda had more civil liberties than the Virginians.

Looking at things historiographically rather than historically is the key switch, and it's a difficult one to make. Every week we read a book, discuss it, and write a response paper on it. My weekly papers are, right now, mashed-together Frankenstein's monsters, as I try to work out not just what the authors say happened, but why they chose to frame things in the way they did, and what they chose to exlude.

This week we're reading a very traditionally Marxist history, and it makes me grind my teeth. Marxist history focuses on the lower classes of society, which were oft neglected in past history-writing. But the authors of this book are misusing statistics in a way that annoys the hell out of me. Plus, Marxist history in general still believes in determanistic history, the whole inevitable revolution thing. Thus the entire concept is in opposition to both free will and historical contingency. (Historical contingency is the idea that things didn't end up the way they did from predestination, that different decisions could lead to changes in history.) The way I see it, if one does not believe in free will and historical contingency, then the study of history is pointless mental masturbation.

Note that there's now a schism going on; there are now marxist historians with a "small m". Historians of that school are concerned with the role of working classes, but reject the "big M" Marxist view of the inevitable path of human societal destiny. I intend to suggest in class that the "little m's" are just social historians focused on the lower classes, and I predict that the prof will chuckle and tell me that such a comment is a great way to start an argument in a faculty party.


[The course book list is in the extended entry, for those of you that feel a desire to learn irrelevant details. We're reading the fourth book right now.]


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July 19, 2009

A Depressing Thought

As a student of history, one occasionally notices things. Most recently, today I noticed that Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old when he wrote the Declaration of Indendance.

I'm also 33 years old.

I wrote a paper this weekend. It's all right, I guess, but I don't think even my parents would be interested in reading it, let alone future generations.

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July 17, 2009


Studying eighteenth and ninteenth century British history would be a lot easier if the Jacobians and the Jacobites didn't hold opposing ideologies.

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July 11, 2009

It All Ends Up as Stew

I stayed up late last night reading Britons: Forging a Nation 1707-1837 so as to have today free. This weekend is Taste of Buffalo, with live bands all day downtown, and dozens of local restraunts set up kiosks and pavilions with demos, recipes, sample food, and coupons of course.

The camera bag is packs, I skipped breakfast to be nice and hungry, all is in readiness. Except the weather. After a week full of glorious sunshine, it's been raining all morning. The weather forecast does suggest that it'll clear up… around midnight.

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny, though. Here's hoping!

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July 09, 2009

The Guy's Like a Nobel Prize Winner or Something

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July 07, 2009


I had a good Fourth of July. I brough fresh chocolate chip cookies over to my friend Iggy's place; he's got a nice turn-of-the-century house. We (and a whole gang) watched war movies while Iggy and I tried to ignore the fireworks. Neither of us is a big fan of those things. Ate some good steaks, played some games, watched some movies, went home and went to bed.

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July 01, 2009

Yummy But Bad

Tonight's dinner:

Put a cooling rack into a cookie pan. Place bacon slices onto the cooling rack. Turn oven to 450°F, place bacon into oven. Cook for ten minutes, then start checking every two minutes until they are done to your preference. (No need to preheat the oven, you need to keep an eye on them so often anyway.)

While bacon is cooking, mix up your favorite five-ingredient biscuit. Roll out thinly, no more than 1/2". Cut with biscuit cutter.

When the bacon is done, remove to paper towels, and take the cooling rack out of the cookie sheet. Leave all the bacon grease in situ. Place the biscuits into the bacony pan, put back into oven, bake for ten minutes.

Eat together, topping biscuits with honey if you have a sweet tooth like I do.

Then get some excercise the next day, 'cause all that bacon isn't healthy!

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